Sunday, November 30, 2014

to campbell, on your 3rd birthday

Dear Campbell,

Celebrate! Today you are three, count 'em, three years old! Your Mom and I were just saying to each other a few minutes ago how we can't believe that three years have gone by since the day you were born. 

So, let's talk about the last year, since I wrote you a note for your 2nd birthday... movies? My favorites of the year are, as typical as it may seem, superhero films, like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain American: the Winter Soldier" and Disney's "Big Hero 6". Christopher Nolan directed this grand space epic called "Interstellar", and it looks awesome and is in fact, just average. A little seen movie came out this summer called "Snowpiercer" that I recommend you find and watch... it's pretty amazing. And of course, "The LEGO Movie". There might be five of them by now, but the original is pretty great.

The music that really hit big, for me anyway, was the Cuban rapper named Pitbull, who had a song called "Fireball", which made me smile all year. This chick named Jessie J teamed up with this other chick named Ariana Grande and made this rockin' pop song called "Bang Bang", which I'm addicted to. Neither me nor your mom like the Nicki Minaj part... and honestly, when you do read this, I wont be surprised if you have no clue who Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj are, because nowadays, musicians come and go quickly. Even the ones thought to have had staying power fizzle fast--Lady Gaga, anyone?

You, getting ready for school
Back to music, Meghan Trainor had this catchy little ditty called "All About that Bass", but do me a favor, either find my iPod or head to YouTube and look up the version by Scott Bradley and the Postmodern Jukebox, featuring Kate Davis. If you appreciate this version even more than the original, I'll know I raised you right.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a little album called "1989" by Taylor Swift, featuring what is sure to be a classic called "Shake It Off". Enjoy.

We've seen you grow a lot this year, Monkey Butt. We've gotten you involved in more therapy and group sessions, and you are signing like crazy now... you have the sign for "more" down pat, and you use it without restraint when it comes time to eat. More. More. More. And on and on.

You have learned how to sign "open" as well, and frankly, its adorable. I think you are on the verge of actually jumping up and down, but you aren't quite there yet. No, you aren't talking just yet... but you babble incessantly. On one hand, its incredibly cute and encouraging... on the other hand, sometimes at 6am, it's a little much for me to deal with. I wish you'd pick your times more selectively about when you decide to loudly start talking your language. 

You rode your first roller coaster this year... in fact, a few weeks ago. It was all kinds of amazing, by the way. When we were in Disney World at the beginning of November... and can I say, you've just had your second Disney World haircut already--you've been to WDW three times and Disneyland once, which is about four times more than many people go in their lives.

Anyway, you were just tall enough to ride The Barnstormer, a small kids coaster in Storybook Circus in New Fantasyland. Your mom, Pops and myself were a little nervous taking you on, but you sat with Mommy, and as the coaster car slowly made it's way up the hill, I could hear you. You were giggling, you were squealing, you were laughing and having the time of your life. I wiped away tears, as my smile nearly broke my face.

The Cast Members then let you ride again, this time with me. I heard your laughter and delight up close this time, and felt you pat my arms in excitement, and watching your face and you smile and laughed, looking around at the bright lights of the Disney World night, staring in wonder. And the Cast Members, one of them almost crying herself when she heard our little story of who you were and how this was your first coaster, let us ride twice more. This time you rode with Pops and you couldn't get enough.

You laughed at the teacups, and you even recognized some characters, as you smiled big when you saw Tigger bouncing on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride. This was a huge thing for all of us, but especially for you.

Campbell, you are our son, and we love you so much. And you are loved not just by your Mom and Dad, or your Pops and GG or aunts and uncles or your Granny and PawPaw, but by so many other friends and people, some of whom have never even met you, but only seen your picture and heard the amusing stories and the funny stories and the heartbreaking stories. 

The teacups... I love spinning you around, kiddo.
You are prayed for more than you will ever realize, by so many people. My first and foremost prayer, even in front of you coming through the autism that hinders you, is that you will find Christ one day, and know He is your Savior. Everything else is just blessings under the bridge. Though I do pray that what keeps you held back--you are three today, but still at around a 15 month level developmentally--will just fade away. I am positive it will, I am positive you'll catch up to everyone and positive that you will live the life that He has for you.

I just hope you can look back where you are as you read this and know that your Mom did all she could for you and that I tried as hard as I could as well.

You are handsome, you are strong, you are a whiz (anyone who has seen you move two chairs into position so you can properly climb them in order to reach a cell phone hidden in the middle of the dining room table will attest to this) and you are a mischievous little boy, just like all other three year olds.   By the way, your fascination with phones and tablets is a little crazy... hopefully, by now, you've learned that just because you see a phone, that doesn't mean it's yours. 

But you know your way around one... it's funny to watch you play with one, swiping and moving things around.  And for whatever reason, the stocks app fascinates you.   Oh, and this year, you also learned to paint... "He takes his time with the brush," says your teacher.

Told you that you were smart. 

Three years old looks great on you, Campbell Dollar. 

Love you, Monkey Butt

--your Dad

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

hey thanks

It's Thanksgiving time once again! From outta nowhere, the holidays are bearing down on our faces, because for some reason, Christmas is in December this year. Doesn't it feel like 2014 just barely got started? I'm not sure I'm finished with 2013 yet, and all of sudden, I have to deal with 2014 going away forever.

So here's something I've never done and thought it might be fun to do... give thanks. I've given thanks before here and there, but I figured I'd go big or go home... 100 thanks in a single post. Let's go!

First, let's get the big ones out of the way... my Savior, Jesus Christ (1), for whom it's all for. I hope my words encourage in a way that pleases Him. The Lovely Steph Leann (2), the best helpmate I could ever ask for, because she gave us Campbell Isaiah (3), who is a pretty special kid--he turns 3 in a week! What!

My job is secure (4) and that's a big deal. And it's not hard work either (5), which means when I go home, work stays at work (6) which makes for very low stress. And of course, there is my other job, being a Disney Travel Planner, and I am so excited to put more time into doing it! (7). Cause I'm good at it.

Here's a few things/people to be thankful for this year...
I mean, there is so much to be thankful for, so many blessings all poured into my own life. Things are looking up (8) more than ever... Campbell is making great strides in his development (9). No, he's not talking yet, but he's in a solid Mother's Day Out program at CASA (10) and in a great therapy program at Mitchell's Place (11). Insurance is covering much of the cost (12), so that's a huge answered prayer for us. He's signing more (13), and he is much more directional than he used to be (14), like when he leads me to the recliner, then pushes me to sit down, just so he can sit in my lap. That's worthy of a thanks (15).
We paid our car off this year (16) so that helps our budget tremendously, and it's one piece that's helping us form our plan for me to go full time with Disney Travel Planning (17). But I'll get into that later.

Got a new phone this fall (18), bumped up to an iPhone 5, which is nice. I love voice texting (19) though autocorrect is a bit of a hassle sometimes.

The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title (20) for the fifth time, and the Baltimore Orioles made it into the baseball postseason (21). Can't say I have much thanks for the Florida Gators OR the Troy Trojans for the way they have played this year, but both Florida (22) and Troy (23) are looking at new coaches next season, so it's time for a re-start. Overall, though, the college football season has been incredible (24) and anyone who thought this four-team playoff would ruin the regular season is crazy, because it's done nothing but heighten the importance of dozens of games (25) that by now, wouldn't mean much except for bowl positions. And, of course, even though I didn't make the playoffs of The DFC, the football pick'em that I've run for now its 15th season, its still be a great season (26). Congrats to Big Eddy McBroom and Steven Ray for making DeuceBowl XV, set for this weekend.
I can also give thanks for the movies (27) and most notably, The Deucecast Movie Show--we are on a digital network now, Shotglass Digital (28) which is like being picked up for syndication. Pretty exciting... new episode dropped today (Tuesday) and is all about our own movie thanks. We owe a big thanks to the hosts of the TechnoRetro Dads podcast, especially one of the hosts who calls himself Shaz (29), and I am very thankful for my own co-hosts Mikey (30) and Pinky (31) and the rest of the Deucecast team, like Tommy Mac, Shawn and our endless rotating guests (32).

The blog is going strong (33), by the way, for which I'm thankful for. I successfully made it through the entire month of October, blogging every day (and some extra) and made it like, 32 days straight (34)... which, if you've followed this blog long, you'll know I've tried similar challenges and have failed miserably. My friend Corie Clark (35) really pushed me on this, along with a few others, so thanks for that. Corie, by the way, wrote a fabulous book about making life simple, called "The Simplicity Project". Full disclosure, I have't read all of it yet. But I've followed along on the challenges online, and will have it read and impletmented by years end.

If I get on the subject of friends, I could be here forever... but I'll tell ya, there are a few people who have really made me a better version of d$. Remodeling Clay host Clay Shaver (36) is a solid guy, as is Writer Chris Holmes (37) (who has his own book, mind you). A fellow named David Mike (38) is an extremely good encourager in all that I, and others, do, and his story is pretty incredible.

Thanks to Rachel Mayo (39) for being awesome--and extremely photogenic. No kidding, that chick can look great in an Instagram picture. May Bohon (40) likes to check in on me, which I appreciate, and Angie Buchanan (41) has also been pretty gracious to me and the family this year as well. And Amy Campbell (42), master of LinkedIn and owner of a resume company called the Red Checker, has also been pretty great to me this year.

I always have thanks for My Best Mate Wookiee (43)... I have been able to chat again with my friend Nikki (44) and my friend Laura (45)... and funnily enough, doing Disney Travel has helped me reconnect with my long lost friend Rebecca (46). I get a kick out of reading my friend Missi's (47) posts (she's one of my favorite people on social media.  and gorgeous)... I'm thankful for the new friends in our lives, like the Kilgores (48) and the Rileys (49) that we haven't gotten to know... for the returning friends, like the Tucks (50) who returned to our lives... long time friends like DeNick & DeLisa (51) who are always helpful and generous... and the friends who have been here all the time, like the Rays (52), and Hurricane Rhett and Amarilys by Morning (up from San Antone) (53) and all the other families that we love (and love us) at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) (54). 

Also, I've planned trips for three different women that I dated in college (and their families). I wasn't saying "hey thanks" for that, I just thought it was worth a mention.

So thankful for Taylor Swift's new CD "1989" (55) and of course, "Shake It Off" which is my Song of the Year thusfar. Then again, it comes out just ahead of Pitbull's "Fireball" (56), which I blast everytime it comes on. But lest we forget Colbie Caillet's new CD (57), which is marvelous in it's own right. And Garth Brooks is back (58) and better than ever. Thanks Garth. You are the man.

My friend Teri Mo (59) made one of the best comments (60) I've ever had bestowed upon me, saying (paraphrasing), "I think d$ is great at getting his political points across, he's never disrespectful, he tries to stick to facts and I appreciate that." Fabulous comment.

We discovered a new place to eat this year, Urban Cookhouse (61), which is awesome. It's up at the Summit, and we frequent it about once per month. And to top it off, we are pretty fond of Steel City Pops popsicles (62), which The Lovely Steph Leann and I have probably had about 300 each so far this year. Addiction is a bad thing, kiddies.

You know what else I'm thankful for? Whataburger Patty Melts (63) without the onions. It's so, so good.

I'm still very thankful for Walt Disney World (64) and all the dreams and opportunities it holds. Campbell rode his very first roller coaster there, The Barnstormer (65) and it was truly magical, as he laughed and giggled and squealed the whole time. We went a few weeks back with The Lovely Steph Leann's parents, Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless (66), and had a pretty great time. I'm thankful our room wasn't that expensive and was pretty large in size, and it was comfortable... I had stayed in Art of Animation (67) before, but everyone else was enjoying it for the first time.

The food is always great, as the Epcot Food & Wine Festival was going on, but the best part was the Captain's Grille (68) at the Yacht Club, likely my favorite meal of them all.

I'm thankful for my friend Aimee Sale (69), a fellow travel agent, who has been willing to help answer questions on the fly when needed, as well as my own agency owner, Frances (70), who has been an amazing travel agency lead.

My friend McQ (71) got married (72) this fall! It was a long time coming, I think, for her and her boo Jason, and it's so great to see them so happy... and I was honored they asked me to help announce (73) and I was thankful to be a part of the festivities.

The Republicans won the Senate in a landslide election (74). I'll say that I'm thankful for that, but I'll hold off on any further apprecation until I see what they will do... or won't do. You know what, they make me nervous (-74). I'll say I'm thankful that we live in a country where we can elect our leaders (74).
Survivor (75) is good this season. And The Lovely Steph Leann has got me watching HGTV, and I'm kinda hooked on "Flip or Flop" (76).

I'll always be thankful for my iPod (77) which helps me get through the day. From Adam Carolla (78) to Alison Rosen (79) to Rush Limbaugh (80) to the bevy of Disney World Podcasts (81) I listen to, I'm thankful I have it here. (82) also is owed a thanks. I've been a customer for years, and this year have been able to pick up gems like the memoir of one of my favorite, Judy Greer (83), and listen to Stephen King's "Mr. Mercedes" (84), which is excellent. The Harry Potter audiobooks (85) will always be some of my favorites because of the masterful performance by Jim Dale (sadly, not on Audible--I had to get them from the library).

I'm thankful that my home is less than one and a half miles from my office (86)

I'm thankful that I was able to give up three months of no sodas, called the #NoSoda30 (87). I drink some Coke now, but I've curbed my consumption.

I'm thankful my mama still loves me (88).

I'm thankful for my extended family, both with Randy & Angie, my bro/sis-in-law, and kids (89) and my other bro/sis in law, Tyler & Brynn (90).

I'm thankful that yesterday I spilled a little grease from an Arby's cheese stick on my pants and got juice from some squash on my shirt... and that was the extent of my Monday worries (91)

I'm thankful I can still afford to splurge a little and frequent Kingdom Comics (92)

I'm thankful that I got to spend a weekend at the Alabama Phoenix Festival (93) downtown, a nerd convention that I actually sat on discussion panels for.

I'm thankful for Sharpies (94). They rule.

I'm thankful for the WWE Network (95), allowing me to watch every Pay Per View without the expensive price--and the fact that Sting (96) showed up at Sunday's Survivor Series.

I'm thankful for Doug Benson's Doug Loves Movie podcast (97), perhaps my favorite podcast. Oh and for Serial (98), which is an amazing podcast experience. 

I'm thankful that another year is almost over--not for the time has gone by, but that life is good (99).

And I'm thankful for you (100), for reading this blog as much as you do.  You don't have to, yet you keep coming back, and I appreciate it more than you know.  You fulfill the "writer" part of my "writer/blogger/podcaster/travel specialist" bio.

Finally... if you read this, and you wonder "Where am I?" (like my friend Katie (101), who is likely to text me and say "Where am I?"), then consider this number-- 102 -- that you are in.  Thank you. 

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Update... I completely forgot to mention this, and realized it a day after I posted this column... thank you to the men & women in the armed forces who are protecting us right now... thank you to the police, emergency and fire department workers who are keeping us safe as well... and thank you to those behind the retail counters, either being forced to work because of a crap schedule or because you need the money badly... thanks for doing it.

Monday, November 03, 2014

ole miss losses, auburn wins and florida still sucks

This is a few days late from my normal round-up, but here’s what I saw from this past weekend’s college football extravaganza

Their star receiver has the ball, running in the end zone with less than a minute to put Ole Miss ahead, forcing Auburn to have to score a touchdown in the remaining 20 seconds or so. It was perfect, as Auburn would suffer it’s second defeat of the season, likely being eliminated from the Football Final Four. Ole Miss would show the nation that it can rebound from an upset loss last week to an improving LSU, and even moreso, make the Egg Bowl, vs Mississippi State, later this season a monumental bout.

And yet, not only did Laquon Treadwell fumble the ball, he fumbled it as a result of his ankle being caught under a tackling Auburn player, an ankle that snapped, while his head gets clocked from the affronting tackler, and another flying Auburn guy coming in at the last second.

Auburn holds on, and are forced to subdue their celebration. It’s a brutal way to lose a game… because not only did they lose a hard fought, up-until-then excellent game against a top five opponent, a de facto elimination game, they lost it on a mistake made by a star player who was taken out of not just the game, but the season.

Like it or hate it, the Auburn Tigers roll on. They are a great team, perhaps the best team in the country… sure, they lost to Mississippi State, but if they play on a neutral field, I’d put my money on Auburn. I believe that Auburn wins out, including a win over Alabama, because they have played the most rugged schedule of anyone. And that Kansas State win, in Kansas, looks really good right about now.

They beat Ole Miss. It was a crazy ending, a heartbreaking ending, but they won the game. And move on.

Maybe their defense doesn’t look all that good, but they figure, heck, we’ll just score more points than you and win it that way. Texas Christian is going to win out, as the Big XII front loads their hard games. If they can get past Kansas State this weekend, and I think they will, an 11-1 Big XII Champ that scores like, 187 points per game will be hard to ignore come playoff time.

Like, every year until this year, State was that team that was always pretty good, but not really good, and most teams like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and the like would be favored against… but if you weren’t prepared for them, they’d beat you and ruin your season. Well, now that Hail State has moved up into the echelon of top SEC teams—for now, anyway—Arkansas has fallen into that role. They almost beat Alabama. They were a play away from beating Georgia. They lost to State by a touchdown. And in two weeks, they’ll likely lose to LSU, but will make them work for it.

Like Arkansas is this year, and Hail State usually is, it’s the Mountaineers of West Virginia that cause the damage. Beating Baylor, taking TCU down to the final few minutes, they are the fly in the ointment of everyone who comes to Morgantown.

Sure, they beat Georgia. But let’s be clear… had they beaten Alabama, there would be cause for celebration. Had the Gators knocked off Ole Miss, or Auburn, then let’s tear the goal posts down. If they beat Florida State, especially in a blowout, then heck, it’ll be insane. But… they beat Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia is a good team and all, but everyone expects Georgia to lose one, maybe two games they are supposed to win. They already lost to South Carolina (that’s one) and then to Florida (that’s two). They’ll likely lose to Auburn at home, and still back into the SEC title game.

Freakin’ Will Muschamp. He was supposed to lose and all but guarantee his dismissal by the end of the year. And now? He has an outside shot to keep his job, especially if they back into the SEC East title and the conference championship. He can’t even get fired correctly.

We can all admit that at the least, the SEC West is a good division. I’ve been on message boards recently, and people are not bashing the power of the West, they are bashing ESPN’s eternal coverage of it. I can see that, but honestly, you are fooling yourself if you don’t put the West at the top in terms of “best divisions in college football”. What divisions will you put ahead of it? Exactly. Sure, you can argue for Florida State being the only thing that matters in the ACC Coastal Atlantic Leaders East or whatever division they are in (does it matter? No one cares about the ACC except for FSU, Miami, sometimes Clemson and VA Tech every third year), but the only people really defending FSU’s dominance are Florida State fans and that’s it.

The SEC West is four teams—and if you count LSU as the powerhouse spoiler, five—battling for supremacy. The SEC East? Like, what? Vandy sucks, Tennessee, though improving, won’t stop sucking til at least next year, Florida is all over the place, Kentucky continues to give you hope only to let you down after Week 6, South Carolina is nothing more than Spurrier’s hobby at the point, and that leaves Georgia and Missouri.. Mizzou has a shot at the title, but Georgia still leads the division… but Florida could still get in? It’s like, no one wants to win this division at all… which makes sense, because it’s a little like the play-in game in March Madness—hype and hoopla and celebration to win a game that puts you in another game, where you’ll be slaughtered by whatever the #1 seed is.

Either Georgia, Florida or Missouri is fighting to not be the team that loses by 27 to Alabama, Miss State or Auburn.

1. Mississippi State
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. TCU
5. Florida State
6. Oregon
7. Georgia
8. Ole Miss
9. Arizona State
10. Michigan State

1) Mississippi State… 2) Florida State… 3) Auburn… 4) TCU

Friday, October 31, 2014

the first scary movie

Out of the 2800+ movies I’ve seen in my life time, I can tell you the last 200 movies I’ve seen—I started last year, keeping track of each movie seen, typing them into my little note app… I saw 109 in 2013 (starting with Les Miserables on 1/1/13, and ending with RIPD on 12/31), and I’m up to 95 now for 2014 (starting with American Hustle on 1/2/14) and I just saw Hotel Transylvania on 10/27.

But what are the first movies I’ve seen? The first movie ever?

There are three movies that are interchangeable in my memory as my first movie I remember seeing. If I close my eyes, I can visualize snippets of each of the films--all very different movies, about as different as you can possibly imagine.
I cannot say one of these films is the absolute first film I ever watched, because who knows what I saw when I was under the age of movie accountability…
It could have been “The Muppet Movie”. My mom/grandparent’s good friend Cathy took me to the movies to see this great movie, and I remember Kermit on the log singing “Rainbow Connection”, and that scene where Animal takes the growth pills and busts through the ceiling of the old country store.

Or maybe, it was “The Shining”. Yes, that Shining, the one with the evil hotel, and Jack Nicholson, I saw that at the drive-in theater with someone, though I don’t know who. I’m pretty positive it was a family member.

Finally, it might have been “Any Which Way You Can”… wait, was that the first one? Or the second one? The other is “Every Which Way But Loose”… they both have Clint Eastwood as the oddly named Philo Beddoe, with Geoffrey Lewis as his friend Orville, and Ruth Gordon as Ma and Sondra Locke as Lynn Halsey-Taylor.

Random thought, sometimes when I take a drink from a water fountain, I see the name “Halsey Taylor” on it, which must be a water fountain manufacturer of some sort... when I see that name, I think of Sondra Locke and these movies. I might be the only person in the entire world’s population of 6 and ½ billion people to think of Sondra Locke that often, but there it is.

Anyway, I remember a big fight—Philo fought for money--and remember Philo, Orville, Lynn and Clyde, the orangutan, in a pick up truck, when they get pulled over by an officer on their way out of town, the officer tells them that he lost a lot of money betting on the other guy… Philo says, “Right turn, Clyde”, and you see this monkey arm out of the truck window throw a punch, nailing the officer in the face and knocking him out. The credits roll as the truck drives away on the desert highway. There’s this cool song that plays over the credits called “The Good Guys & the Bad Guys”, which, according to Wikipedia, was done by John Durrill… and thanks to the magic of iTunes, I just downloaded it like, right NOW, and am listening to this song for the first time in about… 20 years, at least. Maybe 25. My life rules.

I just checked on the timeline—it’s the second one. Oh, one more thing about “Any Which Way You Can”… well, a few more things, because this is my blog and I wanted to talk about this… first, the guy that Philo fights, Jack Wilson, is played a guy named William Smith, a bigtime character actor of the 60s, 70s and 80s. That cat has been in over 300 productions from TV and movies… “Any Which Way But Loose” is the first one, in 1978, and had the late, great Eddie Rabbitt singing the title track… Glen Campbell sings “Any Which Way You Can”, the main song from the 1980 sequel.

I had a completely different point for this post, before I got sidetracked by bad Eastwood films from the late 70s and early 80s…

My question is… what’s the first movie that scared you? I have an answer for myself, and it’s one word: “Poltergeist”. This wasn’t the first film I’d ever seen, as mentioned above, but it was probably in that top 20 or 50 movies I’d ever seen, ever. As a kid, I also remember snippets of “Time Bandits” and “ET” and watching “The Empire Strikes Back” (and later, “Return of the Jedi”) in the theater… but “Poltergeist”, I remember vividly.

I was 7, and the year was 1983. I lived with my Granny and Grandpa (who I called Mom and Dad growing up, as they raised me) in an apartment in Austin, Texas—they ran the joint, the Villa Rio Apartments… 4551 Airport Boulevard, Apartment 301, Austin Texas 78751… but for summers, my grandmother and I would usually go visit one of my aunts either in Florida, or like this summer, Hampton, Virginia, to see my Aunt Betty, my cousins Shannon, Frankie Jr and my cousin Marty, who I kind of idolized, cause she was older, really pretty, really smart and could do no wrong in my book. She’s still pretty awesome, 32 years later.

Anyway, don’t ask me how it came up, but somehow the film was on television. Perhaps it was a beta tape, perhaps it was one of those new fangled “VEE CEE ARE” things, but either way, the family was watching “Poltergeist” on tv… and it scared the living crap outta me.

The movie centers around the Freeling family, with dad Steven (Coach) and mom Diane (an 80s crush worthy JoBeth Williams), and their three kids, oldest daughter Dana (the late Dominique Dunne), middle child Robbie (Oliver Robins, who went on to do Airplane II: The Sequel) and the most famous of all, Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne.

One night during a storm, the kids crawl into bed with Steven and Diane. This is back when there was little to no cable TV, and most stations when off at midnight, signing out with the national anthem, then going to a snow filled screen until early the next morning when they resumed broadcasting. Carol Anne is awakened, she crawls out of bed, seemingly being called to the TV… she gets up close to the screen, placing her hands on the front. She then watches some sort of white entity, a spirit come out of the television and then shoot into the wall of the bedroom. Carol Anne says, “They’re here…”

And this is where it starts. Crazy things start happening, as little as chairs sliding across the floor and glasses breaking on their own to a tree reaching into the window and trying to eat Robbie while he sleeps.

Let me say that again… during a storm, a tree uses its branches like arms, reaches into the bedroom window like you would reach onto the dashboard of a car from the outside, and grabs Robbie, trying to swallow and eat him. And while this is happening, Carol Anne is then sucked into the walls of the house.


Later, as they call in experts to find Carol Anne from whatever ghostly dimension she’s in, a Beast like creature shows its face, we hear the phrase “Go towards the light Carol Anne!” uttered for the first time, and after a guy sees a rotting steak move across the counter on its own power, he then rips his face off. Like what what.

This movie terrified me to no end… I’m watching it, mesmerized, and yet, now realizing that my house too is probably built onto an Indian Burial ground, just like the Freeling house. Like, I too will be be sucked into the wall…

Or worse yet…

...The house has been determined spirit free by the scientists who came… and of course, instead of hightailing it out of there with the family, they decided to spend one more night in the home. Big mistake.

Robbie is in his bed, trying to sleep. There is this clown puppet that he has in his room, again, I’m not sure why, and it’s resting in a rocking chair. Robbie looks at it, stares at it, then tries to throw his jacket over it to cover the clown face. The jacket slips off. Robbie hides under the blanket, then dares to look once more and…

…and the clown isn’t there. Okay, for me, at this point, I wouldn’t even be in that house, I’d be sleeping on a park bench if needed, but were I stuck in that room somehow, I would not do what Robbie does… no, I’m taking a leap off of that bed to the door, and hightailing it downstairs as fast as I could go.
But no, Robbie takes a different approach. He slowly looks over the side of the bed… sees only floor. And then he does what we would all do (and by “all do”, I mean “no one would do”)… he slowly peers down until he sees under the bed.  Nothing.  But as he gets up, the clown is right behind him, wrapping those skinny arms around Robbie's neck and then dragging him under the bed. 


Warning:  this clip contains scary clown things, and JoBeth Williams in her underthings being thrown around the room.  You may see "underthings", but trust me, ain't nothing sexy about this scene.  It's terrifying. 

Then, we see Robbie fighting off the clown... Diane outside yelling for help, falling into the swimming pool that they are installing, skeletons popping out of the water, then graves and coffins coming through the ground as the house collapses in on itself.  I mean, what's not to love when you are 7 and already afraid of the dark?

When I saw this film, it scared me for years, and I mean "years".  I wouldn't hang an arm, a hand, a leg or a foot off the side of  the bed at night, and wouldn't dare to ever look under the bed.  Ever.  Ever.  You die like that.  I was about 14 or 15 before this started being a little easier.  And my closet door also stays open, to this day.  I want to see the monster in the closet as it comes out to eat me.  I still think about this film from time to time.  I've seen it in recent years, and can see how it's a bit dated--some of the effects are a little off, and you can even see the way the clown arm wraps around Robbie's shoulder looks very fake... terrifying, but fake.  It's a great film.

Interesting story... at the time, it was cheaper to buy real skeletons and use them then have plastic skeletons manufactured, so that's what you see--real bones.  Also, JoBeth Williams wasn't bothered by the human skeletons, she was more concerned about the wiring around the movie set, and her being electrocuted due to the muddy water she was required to be in.  Producer Steven Spielberg got in the water with her, just off camera, telling her that it was safe, but if she died, then he would too.  Whatta guy.

Also, it's widely been rumored that director Tobe Hooper, who's credits included the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, didn't actually direct this film, but that it was Steven Spielberg who called the shots.  Both Spielberg and Hooper have vehemently denied this claim, with Tobe Hooper getting defensive many time about it... however, Zelda Rubenstein, the short little old lady named Tangina who plays a pivotal role in getting Carol Anne back from the spirits, has been very vocal when asked, saying that Spielberg was the only director she saw for the six days she filmed, and that "Tobe was only partly there"... this echoes the sentiment held by several other cast members.

And, finally, the movie is known for the "Curse of Poltergeist", due to the fact two of the cast members died at a very young age... Dominique Dunne, who played eldest daughter Dana, died six months after the film was released in June of '82 at the hands of her abusive boyfriend.  Dunne was 22.  And Heather O'Rourke, the Carol Anne character, died at the age of 12 in 1988 from complications due to surgery.   Also, two other actors featured in the sequels to the movie died unexpectedly.  The Curse is attributed to the fact they did use the real skeletons in the film.  And you can choose to believe it or not...

As for the sequels, stay away.  Both "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" and "Poltergeist III" are terrible films.  Just run. 

So there ya go.  What started out as a wandering journey through two of Clint Eastwood's arguably worst best worst craptastic films has ended up in the scariest movie I've ever seen.

Poltergeist is the essential scary movie, perhaps a perfect ghost story.  It's not gory, it's not violent, it just preys upon everyones fear of the dark, of what's under the bed, and the unseen.  It takes a simple snowy screen that we all have seen before and makes it sinister and turns a two word phrase spoken by a six year old little blonde girl--They're here--and makes it one of the most frightening things you can imagine.  If you haven't seen this film, you owe it to yourself to do so.

And the music on the ending credits... so creepy.  And the clown.  Yeesh, that clown.  I hate clowns. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

my aunt judy

(Warning. This is a true life story of my aunt and the ordeal she faced in 2011. Though I don't get too graphic, the things I say in this post are very uncomfortable and terrible.  Read with caution.

It's also important to note that this post is an emotional response to the program I'm watching, the "Surviving Evil" episode that centers on what follows in this post. This is the story that I know.)

I'm watching one of my favorite channels, one called Investigation Discovery. Usually, I fill up on Dateline NBC, or maybe a great episode of 20/20 or even 48 Hours. I'm a sucker for murder mysteries, true life crime, I've even read several books having to do with cold cases and such... Kathryn Casey is a marvelous author of murder crimes in Texas, and I've read nearly everything she's done.

Tonight's show on Investigation Discovery is a little different... it's a show called "Surviving Evil", and each episode centers around someone--usually a woman--who makes it through what is a brutal ordeal in her life. The hour long show features two stories... the first one was a girl named April Sykes, who was essentially set on fire by the man who assaulted her.

The second story is my Aunt Judy Murrell.

Judy is the youngest sister of my mom and my other aunts, and has been single for a while now. She has two grown sons, my cousins, who are both in the military, tough guys, but solid men who serve our country. She also has a daughter named Jennifer, who is now in college.

Living in Andalusia, Alabama, she lives with her daughter, but lives a simple life, a single life... sometimes, many times a lonely life. And that's why it was okay for her to find favor with someone that in normal circumstances no one would ever want to really spent much time with. Judy is a wonderful woman... she is so proud of her sons, she's proud of her daughter, and she loves her family so much. 

Our little story is how when I was a baby, I would sleep on her chest... and go to the bathroom on her.  I was like, one, so don't judge too much. She's always been warm with me, with a big hug and she loves The Lovely Steph Leann and oh, does she love her some Campbell Isaiah.

In early 2011, Aunt Judy met Raul Del Toro, a smooth talker from Cuba who showed her just the kind of attention, said just the kind of words that a middle aged single mom from a small town wants to hear. They went out, they got close, and though he wasn't the ideal man in the eyes of Aunt Judy's older sister--my mom--or her daughter Jennifer, hey, it's Judy's life, right?

But over time, Judy began to notice something... Raul began to control more and more of the things she would say and do. He opposed her wearing anything like a tank top, or shorts he thought were too short, he made her quit her job at a local factory, convincing her that he would take care of her financially... he would routinely go through her cell phone to see if she was "running around" on him.

One night in March of 2011, he had a little too much, things got out of hand, he got violent and busted Aunt Judy's lip. She was able to call the police, and they arrived. She told police that she just wanted him to leave--Raul complied... why didn't she have him arrested for assault? He had already threatened to kill her if she ever had him thrown in jail. 

A few weeks went by, and he came back around. Smooth talking as always, he charmed his way back into her life, back into her small town Andalusia home. Jan, the sister (and my mom), had already convinced her to get a gun just in case, and Jennifer, the daughter, had already decided to not stick around when Raul was there. 

April 2011.

Raul was in Aunt Judy's home, and they began to argue again. This time, he wanted to see her phone to see what she'd been up to, and in a fit of anger, fear and maybe just annoyance, she threw it against the wall, shattering the device. It was then that the nightmare of the next 12 hours started for my Aunt Judy.

He hit her. He dragged her purse down, rifled through it and pulled out her drivers license, then burned it, to show her that she was a nobody. He then pulled out the gun that Aunt Judy had stashed away, telling her how he found it in the house already.

Raul dragged her into the bedroom, her OWN bedroom, in her own bed. She begged him not to kill her... or at least, not to kill her there--she pleaded that she didn't want her daughter to come in and find her, so if he was going to kill her, to take her somewhere and do it. Raul, in a random act of what he probably thought was kindness, agreed that we wouldn't kill her there. He would take her elsewhere. Either way, he expressed the fact that she would die very soon--but he told her he wasn't done with her yet. 

He went to the closet and began to pull out her clothes, using a knife to cut them, shred them, destroy them. Raul turned to my Aunt Judy and made her strip. He then attempted to rape her. When he was unable to do what he wanted, he did what might be the most horrific thing I can think of--he raped and assaulted her with her own gun. He hit her, he cut her with the knife... and then in a final show of humiliation, he dragged her in to the bathroom and chopped off huge amounts of hair.

Aunt Judy has always had big, poofy, thick brown hair and she has always kept it long, for as long as I remember... and he chopped it. He cut it. He tore at it. Leaving her destroy, leaving her used, leaving her... he wanted to leave her ugly, to make sure she knew that no one would want her. 

Raul Del Toro had been with her for nearly 12 hours. In that time, he raped, assault, beat and tortured... TORTURED... my Aunt Judy. And he degraded her. More than anything else, he degraded her in every way he knew how to do.

As the sun came up the next day, he made her put on a baseball cap, and then... then he hugged her and told her that he loved her. She asked that even though he loved her, he was going to kill her, to which he simply said yes.

He then dragged her outside to the vehicle in the yard. My Aunt Judy got in, and was forced to put the seat back. Raul Del Toro got in and began to drive to whatever spot he had decided to end her life. He was going to take her outside of town... and shoot her. If she was lucky, just a quick shot. But he said he was going to shoot her in the back and see how long she would crawl before she died. 

If you have lived in any small town long enough, or even in a neighborhood long enough, you recognize more than what you see on your left and right. You will recognize what you see up above too. So as my Aunt Judy lay back in the seat, bruised, bloody, violated, swollen, she could tell by the turns the car was making, and by what she saw in the upper part of the car window that they were going through downtown Andalusia.

This was now or never. She knew that if they got past downtown, past where people lived and worked, past where the town's businesses were just waking up, then it was over. If my Aunt Judy was going to act, she would have to do it now.

Instinctively, she grabbed the wheel and yanked it. The car jerked as Raul Del Toro tried to gain control back. The car swerved, around and swung into a Dairy Queen parking lot before it came to a stop. A struggle in the car ensued, and the gun, my Aunt Judy's gun, the gun Raul Del Toro had been holding, the gun was fired three times. Three gunshots blasted into my Aunt Judy, one in her chest, one in her pelvis and one into her stomach, shredding her spleen and kidney.

Raul Del Toro got out of the car and walked away. My Aunt Judy managed to get her seatbelt unbuckled, opened the door and fell out of the car in a bloody heap. She was able to stand up some, waving for help, before collapsing unconscious. 

I was at home. I got a phone call from Jan that something had happened. Something about her boyfriend or her ex boyfriend had assaulted her or hit her or something or... and shot her? Like, my Aunt Judy got shot? Three times? What are you talking about...?

Over the next 24 hours, I slowly got the details, those details that I couldn't understand because who does this to someone? Who sexually assaults someone with... a gun? Is this real?

My Aunt Judy lost a lot of blood that night. She spent many weeks in the hospital, suffered through many surgeries, and lost her spleen, her gall bladder and part of her stomach, as well as dealing with severe kidney damage. Family rallied around her, many prayers were said for her, and she slowly began to recover physically.

Emotionally, however, is a much longer recovery. Three and a half years later, she still cries at night, she still has trouble sleeping, she deals with depression. My Aunt Judy credits two things that keep her going--God and her family. She has faith in both.

My Aunt Judy is a brave woman. She dealt with more in 12 hours than most of us will have to deal with in a lifetime. She wasn't merely violated, she was destroyed in her own bedroom. 

As for Raul Del Toro, he walked away from the scene, and was actually picked up by the Sheriff's Department walking down the highway out of town. He had the wherewithal to do everything he did to my Aunt Judy, but didn't have the common sense to run and hide. And he's very lucky that John and Steven, my Aunt Judy's two sons in the Army and Marines, didn't get a hold him first, because that would have been a bloodletting the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time. 

Raul Del Toro is now serving two consecutive life sentences, and will be eligible for parole in about 25 years. I hope he receives in the prison bathrooms from an inmate nicknamed Sweet Sweetback that which he bestowed upon my Aunt Judy.

I love my Aunt Judy. She stands tall now. She deals mentally and emotionally with everything, and probably always will. But she survived. She lives. And for that, I thank God. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

reviewing 1989

A few days ago at Target, I bought Taylor Swift's new album "1989", or as it's been called in some places, "T.S. 1989", and here is a track by track review… keep in mind, when I write this, I’m hearing all of these songs but two (“Shake It Off” and “Out of the Woods”) for the very first time, and am writing this as I listen, not after I’ve heard the whole thing. So it’s like, a real time commentary.

Welcome to New York… I’m sure “poppy” is a word I’ll use a lot here, but this is definitely poppy. It’s a bubble gum version of Jay-Z’s & Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”, mixed with a just as excited, just as poppy version of “Party in the USA”. It’s a great lead off track and sets the tone for the album

Blank Space… This song is great. With “Shake It Off” and with this, Taylor has fully embraced the reputation of “date her, break up, get a song written about you” that has flown around her for years. This might be a contender for the favorite on the album two tracks in. “Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane, cause you know I love the players and you love the game…” This song is full of snappy lines just like that.

Style… This is the most 90s song I’ve heard in a long time, and for me, that’s a great thing. Yes, poppy, but a little darker than that, and more adult as well. Taylor doesn’t curse in her songs, and never directly addresses the bedroom activities that many songs go to immediately, but the insinuation is there—“…takes me home, lights are off, he’s taking off his coat…” Maybe its prayer. Who knows.

Out of the Woods… This is the second single from the album, released a few weeks ago, rumored to be written about Harry Styles… or one of the One Direction guys, who knows. I’m not a huge fan of this one, especially when it’s following the marvelous “Shake It Off”. Still, it’s not a bad track, it’s a little catchy, and you’ll find yourself “are we outta the woods!!??” a few times today.

All You Had to Do Was Stay… So far, I’m getting the impression that she’s addressing several of her past boyfriends, famous or not… Adele made a bajillionty dollars with her incredible album “21”, an entire album full of heartbreak and lost love. To say Taylor Swift is “Adele Light” is not only unfair to Adele, but also to Taylor, but in the same manner, the comparisons are there to me. It’s another song of “why did you leave, you should have stayed here” (not lyrics, just sentiment). She pulls it off though, it’s a quirky song.

Shake It Off… Taylor Swift, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… everything I’ve ever loved about Taylor is wrapped up in two songs—“You Belong To Me”, not only my favorite Swift, but one of my favorite songs of all time anywhere… and this one. I am not tired of this, don’t know when I will get tired of it, and have heard it 2 dozen times at least. The video just adds sprinkles to an already great hot fudge sundae.

I Wish You Would… Seven tracks in, no ballads yet. This song is sort of the like the uneven sequel to Track 5, “All You Had to Do Was Stay”. Sung well, very wordy, but almost a retread of what we’ve heard. Having said that, if this catches on as a single on the radio, I’ll say the same thing about Track 5. 

Bad Blood… One of the only reasons I like “Bang Bang” by Jessie J with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj (it’s a problem when the artist credit is like, 4x as long as the song title) is because it’s just darn fun to sing. Same with “I Love It All” by Icona Pop. This song might just fall under that category, cause it’s a loud proclamation of “Get Up Out My Face” to her ex-man. “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show”… indeed.

Oh, and I have a real conflict with myself because I happen to like anything associated with Nicki Minaj.

Wildest Dreams… Not quite a ballad, I really like this track… it’s a little haunting, very seductive and very pointedly saying, “We had it all and you’re gonna miss it.” (again, not lyrics, but sentiment). The boy she’s been pining for over the last few songs is now being told that he’ll have her in his wildest dreams now, and that’s is. Burn.

How You Get the Girl… If there was any return to her country roots, this song is the one that does that.  Still pop, but it’s got more twang to it than anything I’ve heard.  This totally reminds me of "Some Kind of Wonderful", and how Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is trying to help Keith (Eric Stoltz) get the girl, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), when it’s in fact Watts who wants Keith more than anything.  Here’s how to get the girl… okay, here’s how to actually get me.  To me, this will be a track I’ll remember—one of the more different songs on the album thus far.

This Love… And now we have our true ballad.  I like it.  This album tells a story… started bright, got hurt, rebounded and is finding balance again.  Soft, a little reminiscent of old school, pre-skank soft Mariah Carey.  “This Love is alive, back from the dead, these hands had to let it go free and this love came back to me…”

I Know Places… Trying to hard. That’s the first thing I thought when this song started. The chorus is strong, and well written lyrically, like most of her stuff, but the verses are a bit much. Seems like she’s trying to be “out there” with her sound on this one, and for me, it just doesn’t work as well. I’m glad she doesn’t lead off with this song, it wouldn’t work. And she does say “damn”, so I stand corrected on Taylor not cursing. 

Clean… This one, however, has a great beginning. And the line “You’re still over me like a wine stained dress I can’t wear anymore” is both hilarious and cutting, and I love it. This is the song where she finally breaks free of the one who kept her down, be it Mayer or Styles or Warren Beatty or whoever else she dated. I really enjoyed this song.

Thus ends the regular version of the album. However, as mentioned above, I purchased Target’s Deluxe Version of the album, with bonus tracks and “songwriting memos”, whatever that is—which we’ll find out in a few minutes, I guess.

Wonderland… If you couldn’t get it from the title, it’s a play on the Wonderland from the Alice in Wonderland type story… no mention of Alice though, more of a finding-paradise-that’s-not-paradise-together type Wonderland. Bonus points for mentioning the Chesire Cat in the lyrics. I would imagine this video will have Taylor in a small Alice dress running around a strange world full of strange creatures. Not that that’s a bad thing.

You Are in Love… Another sort-of ballad, well written, well done, though it may would benefit from a little less production. I do like this song a lot, though, and it’s melody. Kudos for a beginning that sounds like the opening chords of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”. I’m positive this isn’t what she was going for, but it’s a bonus to me.

New Romantics… With a slight sound that differs from Taylor’s usually voice, this one song is probably the poster child from her departure from country to pop. This song maybe a perfect pop song.

In summary...feel like this entire album is telling a story… the arrival “Welcome to New York”, the warning of dating Taylor, “Blank Space”… the romance with “Style”… the trouble with “Out of the Woods”… the pining and regret with “All You Had to Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would”, with the ignore-the-haters “Shake It Off” in the middle… the vengeful “Bad Blood”… the flaunting of “Wildest Dreams”… the new or maybe rekindled romance of “How You Get the Girl” and “This Love” and “I Know Places”… and finally, the freedom of it all with “Clean”.  The extra tracks are just that.

Bottom line? I loved this album. Even the tracks that weren't my favorite were still good... my favorites however, beyond "Shake It Off", will likely be "How You Get the Girl", "Clean" and I really like that "Blank Space". Check it out.

And because Taylor Swift....

Monday, October 27, 2014

being a fangirl

I bought Taylor Swift’s new CD, “1989” today. For whatever reason, it came out today, on a Monday, and not on a Tuesday. Right before I got to work—or better yet, I parked at work and walked up a slight hill to Target, and was at the door at 7:50. And then remembered that they didn’t open until 8. Because my primary purpose in going was to buy Taylor Swift’s new CD, I suddenly became one of “those fans”, as in, standing outside the store, waiting for it to open.

What makes it worse, was there were three 20sometthing chicks standing right behind me, ready to go in and do the same. They opened the door, and I walked quickly—but not too quick, as I wasn’t that desperate—to the left, to Target’s music section. And, even though they’ve been closed since 10pm last night, the shelves that would hold new CDs were empty.

A Target dude asked me if I needed help, and I was thinking, “Really? You have to know this is the biggest album of the year, right?” I told him, a little sheepishly and low voiced, “The new Taylor Swift CD?”


So there’s that.

He asked me if I’d rather have the regular or deluxe version, and I just responded, “Can you bring them both out?” He agreed and disappeared into the back. The three girls who were around me outside then joined me in the music section. Another Target girl came up and asked all us if we needed anything. 

And doing the creepy loser thing again, without thinking, I cheerily said, "Oh, we are just waiting on the new Taylor Swift CD!" I then wanted to facepalm, but decided against it. Finally two people came from the back, each holding boxes, handing out regular and deluxe version of the new album.

Walking to the register, I was not only the first customer actually in Target this morning, I'm the first person to check out. If Target doesn't make another dollar all day, they will have at least made $15.68--enough for a Taylor Swift deluxe edition of "1989" and a Twix Bar. 

The Medea type lady at the register looked at the CD that I handed to her. "Who is this? Is she new? We keep playing her movies and videos in the music department, so I thought she must be new..."

"She's got a new album out today, and it's supposed to be a big deal."

"Oh, okay... figured she was new."

Got my CD. Went to work. 

How is it? I wrote a track-by-track commentary, and you can find that by clicking here...

the king is not scary part 2

As a nod to a friend of mine, but also because I thought it was a good topic, I listed five Stephen King books that weren't horror stories... perhaps they dive into the supernatural just a little, or maybe science fiction, and definitely an air of suspense, but nothing like an evil hotel, like "The Shining", or a possessed car, like "Christine", or an evil, possessed clown like "It"... so here is another five of Not Scary King... you can read Part I of this post by clicking here. Otherwise, here ya go...

A little girl is hiking in the woods with her family along a familiar trail... her family is quite dysfunctional, of course, as Brother is quite annoying and Mommy and Daddy are fighting all the time. She slows a bit to take a restroom break right off the trail, slips on an embankment and ends up down a hill, completely lost. Trisha begins to drift further into the deep woods, armed with only a few things like a Twinkie, a poncho and a Walkman, which she likes to use to listen to her favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, and her favorite player and athlete crush, pitcher Tom Gordon. Thus begins a psychological story of a little girl who is not only battling the elements, but the darkness, fear and eventually, her sanity. It's thrilling, a little strange, and you'll root for Trisha the entire way. (224 pages)

CELL (2006)
More science fiction than anything, a random signal from outta nowhere is shot across the world, and everyone who is on a cell phone at that exact time is zapped in an insane zombie-like killer. Writer Clay Riddell is in Boston, and amidst the ensuing chaos and destruction that follows, sets out on a journey to try and get to his son, Jonny, in Maine. He teams up with Tom and a teen named Alice, and the trio meet good guys and bad guys as they make their way.  (355 pages)

Here's what I wrote back in 2011, listing this book at the 42nd Coolest Thing of 2010... In the fall of some year after 2012, Dale Barbara, known as "Barbie", is trying to leave the small town of Chester's Mill. Before he can get very far, however, something odd happens. An invisible, indestructible barrier--a dome, per se--is dropped over the town, keeping everyone who's out of town out of the town, and everyone who is in the town, in the town.

Big Jim Rennie, second selectman, takes over the town, appointing his corrupt friends and sick, twisted son Junior as town officials, and does his best to try and contain the opposition, which includes Barbie and newspaper editor Julia Shumway. Slowly but surely, the town's government falls apart as Big Jim's rule becomes more and more stern, and as his ego--and paranoia of losing control--spiral out of control.

Efforts to destroy the Dome fail one after the other, and everything from civility to law to just common sense begins to fall apart, piece by piece, little by little... its not a slippery slope so much as a straight up and down cliff. 

While the Dome is the central key to the novel, it is what happens to the town that becomes the book's plot. The breakdown in civilization, the loss of respect and democracy... that's the book's central storyline. When Big Jim realizes that not everyone sees it his way, its then that he begins doing whatever, and I mean whatever, is necessary to ensure his own rule is followed.  Also, one of my favorite Stephen King covers ever... (1074 pages)

JOYLAND (2013)
I listed this at the 10th best book I read in 2013... here's what I wrote about it: Some of King's best work is not horror or of the supernatural ilk, and this is a great example of that. "Joyland" is set in 1973, and tells the story of Devin, who gets a job at an amusement park in North Carolina. He ends up befriending a few people, including Annie and her ill son Mike, plus some of the people at the park, all set with the backdrop of some unsolved murders that occurred in the Haunted House years previous. At under 300 pages, it reads quickly, and though you might see the ending coming before you get to it, its worth the ride. (288 pages)

11/22/63 (2013)
One of the most random, unusual non-Stephen King stories that still plays out like a Stephen King story after all is "11/22/63". Jake is a divorced high school teacher who, through a friend who seems to be going through his own troubles, is shown a "portal" in the past... namely, 1958, at exactly 11:58am on September 9th. No matter how long he stays in the past, only a few minutes pass in the present day, along with some other restrictions of the portal. The mission is to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on, you guessed it, 11/22/63, so Jake begins a life in the past to try and lead up to the event. And the story slowly unfolds bit by bit, and though it's a slow burn, it's worth the ride. King also gives a very interesting answer to the question, "What if JFK lived?". (849 pages)

Finally, MR MERCEDES is the latest non-horror-but-thrilling novel from Stephen King, from earlier this year in 2014. I loved this book, but will wait to review it until the end of the year. However, you can read my friend Jessica's review on it if you'd like...  and at the end of the year, I'll also be discussing King's newest book, "Revival", coming out in November.

The #31DaysofWriting is coming to a close this week! And coming tomorrow... Taylor Swift's new CD dropped today! I'll give you my own fangirl experience and a track-by-track commentary on the whole thing!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

good bo or bad bo: saturday's football

As I've done in the last few weeks, here's my take on what happened today in the world of college football... as I type, there is about 6 minutes left in the USC/Utah battle, with USC leading 21-17, with the Trojans deep in their own territory. Here's the day:

First... Good Bo and Bad Bo Is Not a Good Thing, Its a Bad Thing

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is a great player. The problem is, everyone asks themselves before Ole Miss plays, "Will we get 'Good Bo' or 'Bad Bo' tonight?" Folks, that's a problem. If your quarterback is unreliable enough that you actually have nicknames for your playing levels, that's not good. Apparently, it was Bad Bo tonight... Ole Miss went into Death Valley to play LSU, and the carriage turned into a pumpkin for the Rebels dream season... 17-10, in a defense struggle, Ole Miss leaves with their first loss of the season.

Not only that, but the last :15 seconds were just bizarre... with :09 left on the clock, Les Miles calls a timeout to "ice" instead of sending their guy in a field goal attempt--and yes, because of a stupid penalty, at 47 yards it was right on the edge of their kicker's abilities--coach Hugh Freeze does this trickeration where Bo tosses a quick pass which was.... intercepted./

Not only did the timeout actually ice the coach, that's a lesson Freeze learned the hard way... it's very hard to out Les Miles Les Miles.

Update... 17 seconds left, Utah has the ball at the 1/2 yard line

Second... Auburn's Defense Just Showed Up to the Game... Two Hours After It Finished
What defense? Auburn scored 42 but gave up 35, in a game that was closer than that. The South Carolina Fightin' Spurriers nearly had their way with Auburn, but did what Spurrier usually does... they somehow found a way to lose. So an Ole Miss loss and an Auburn win sets up...

Third... A One Game Playoff
I love this four team playoff system. Love it. Love it. LOVE it. When there were two teams only, according to the BCS, many of the games we are watching are moot--I mean, they are important, but one loss really just knocks you out. With Florida State playing Bessemer Tech at home and then the Colorado School of Mines later, they'll be undefeated, meaning everyone would playing to get that one single spot against FSU... so there would be about three teams with a legit shot.

Update... Utah just scored, 8 seconds left, will be 24-21 after the PAT is made.

Now? Like, at least a dozen teams have a shot at the four spots... Florida State, Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Michigan State, Baylor, TCU, Notre Dame, Georgia... they win out, they have a legit shot at the Football Final Four.

And next week... Auburn playing at Ole Miss. Both have one single loss to a ranked opponent. 

Update... Utah wins the game, 24-21, their first win over USC, and now become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

The loser of the Auburn/Mississippi game is likely out of the mix of the Football Final Four. Oh, there's a chance that the loser may make it with 2 losses, but not likely. That loser will still probably make a New Year's Six bowl game, but not the playoffs.

Fourth... The B1G's One Game Playoff
Michigan State, who's one loss came to the Oregon Ducks, which is still a pretty good team, plays Ohio State, who's one loss came at home to Virginia Tech, which is not a very good team... I think Michigan State is a great team who has rebounded nicely from their loss, pimp slapping the Meeeeechigan Wolverines today. I think Ohio State is still a paper tiger... if they beat Michigan State, I think the B1G gets left out of the Football Final Four. If Michigan State beats OSU, I think they have a shot at it.

Fifth... TCU Scores. And Scores. And Scores. And Scores. And Scores. And Scores. And Scores. And Scores.
Texas Christian absolutely steamrolled Texas Tech, dropping 82 on the Red Raiders. And Kansas State shuts out Texas. And West Virginia knocks off Oklahoma State. The Big XII is so up in the air, it's crazy... and what's crazier is that we are discussing TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia AND Baylor, and NOT Oklahoma and Texas for conference supremacy. 

Personally, I would love a 4 or 5 way tie for the championship, though I don't like that the ultimate tiebreaker is to let the 12 person Football Playoff Committee decide. I think the ADs of the conference should do that job... but either way, the Big XII is almost as exciting now as the SEC West. Almost.

Sixth... Georgia Could Still Win the Whole Thing
With all the talk of the SEC West, people are forgetting that Georgia is sitting over there at 6-1, with nearly guaranteed wins over Florida, Kentucky and Chuck-Southern to come. Auburn will be their only real test, but even if the Dawgs lose, they go into the SEC Title game at 10-2, and if they win, I don't know that anyone else from the SEC will go in. And Georgia could beat Florida State. Most of the top five could, really.

Seventh... Dumpster Fires Everywhere
Florida. Texas. Michigan. In flames. Three storied programs, three programs that just.. well, suck. Michigan can't do anything with Brady Hoke... Florida can't do anything with Will Muschamp... and though Texas is on the right track with Charlie Strong, it may take a season or two to right the ship. And I would imagine that the pressure in Austin is similar to that you'd find in Tuscaloosa--we need to win, and win very, very soon.

My Football Final Four Right Now... 1. Mississippi State... 2. Florida State... 3. TCU... 4. Alabama

My Top Ten
1-Mississippi State
4-Florida State
7-Ole Miss
8-Notre Dame
10-Michigan State

Friday, October 24, 2014

the king is not scary part 1

My friend Jessica Jobes, fellow blogger and avid reader, has taken on the #31DaysofWriting Challenge, dedicating her blog to book reviews--one book every day, for the entire month of October. I can tell you that she and I have different reading piles, though I think she'd be more likely to read some of the stuff in my stack in as I would be to read what she has in her stack.

She said in a Facebook post the other day that she had finished reading "Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King... now, this is a dandy of a book, and unlike many of his horror/supernatural tales that King writes. This is a straight up serial killer whodunit cat-n-mouse chase kind of story... and so Jessica (who did a review of this very book on her own page today) asks what other Stephen King books are set in real life, and aren't supernatural, horror sort of stories.

And so I thought I would give that list of those non-horror, but still suspenseful and creepy Stephen King novels that I've read... some of them may have a touch of supernatural, but it's not in a frightening way.  All of these are available on, by the way, and I've listened to them all, as well as read the printed page.

Written under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman", it's a dystopian tale of a "Walk", where teenage boys of a certain age are commanded to... well, walk. And walk. And walk. And walk. To win, you don't outpace the other boys, or raise more money or fight anyone... you just outlast everyone else. As in, you are the last one alive. It seems like a long book for such a simple premise, but this is early in King's career... the characters are interesting, but I did find myself just wanting the book to end at some point. I liked it, but won't re-read it.  (384 pages)

Though it's kind of a crappy movie, I actually liked the film, starring David Keith, George C. Scott and a very young Drew Barrymore... but the book is 1000x better. Andy and his daughter Charlie are on the run from the government, as Andy is telekentic, and Charlie... well, she can start fires. The novel chronicles their journey, and those who betray them, culminating with one heckuva flame throwing final scene. (426 pages)

CUJO (1981)
You know the basic story... a big St. Bernard named Cujo... he gets rabies... and he starts drooling a lot and killing a lot more. It centers on two families, the Cambers and the Trentons. The former is the family that owns the dog, the latter is a family that is falling apart due to an affair by the mom, Donna. Cujo gets bitten by a bat, and it's on. A small part of the narrative even looks at the story from the dog's point of view, which is a twist. The movie with Dee Wallace (I can't remember if she was "Stone" or not) is not bad, though the ending is different. (319 pages)

MISERY (1987)
You probably know this story as well... writer Paul Sheldon is wrapping up a very popular series of books, centering on his character "Misery Chastain", and as tradition, goes up to a secluded log cabin to finish the book--and the character--off. A freak snowstorm sends his vehicle into a wooded snowbank, and he's rescued by Annie Wilkes, who turns out to be quite the superfan. Most of the book surrounds the tense relationship between Paul and Annie, who just will not have her favorite character ending the story. The book is brutal in what happens to Paul--if you've seen the movie, there's a scene where Annie breaks Paul's foot with a hammer to keep him from escaping... what she does in the book is just horrendous... (320 pages)

Undoubtedly you have seen this film, but the book(s) are even better as a whole. In 1995, it was announced that in early 1996, Stephen King would release a new novel, but broken up over 6 parts. The first, "Two Dead Girls" would come out in March of '96, then every six weeks, there would be a new chapter in the story.

The parts included "The Mouse on the Mile"... "Coffey's Hands"... "The Bad Death of Edward Delacroix"... "Night Journey" and "Coffey on the Mile", and aside from the last book, all were just under 100 pages. "Coffey on the Mile" was 144 pages. Back before Algore's Internets, I had to go to the bookstore to find out when these would come out, and the day of the release, I was at Walmart, spending my hard earned $4.44 to buy each one, consuming it by midnight.

In 1932, John Coffey, an enormous, but kind hearted and simple black fella, is arrested after he is found holding two dead little girls that were missing. He is taken to the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, led by supervisor Paul Edgecombe, a nice enough guy, with his fellow officers Brutal and a few others, and the sadistic and cruel Percy Whitmore. You also meet a few other inmates that become intrigal to the story, especially a little mouse that is known as "Mr. Jingles", along the way... there is a touch of supernatural, once you find out what John Coffey is actually all about, and you'll find yourself wanting to read each part, telling yourself "Oh, its only 100 more pages..."

This is readily available in novel form as a whole, or you can find it in a used book store in the original six parts, which is what I did a few years ago. Why, you ask, don't I have the novels that I bought originally? Well, I lent them to a chick friend in college, because she smiled at me, and she had a pretty smile. And I never got them back. She's actually here in town now, we are friends on Facebook, but I have never bothered to ask if she still had them.  (By the way--if you've never seen this movie, you should.  It's incredibly well done, suspenseful and heartbreaking.)

Part 2 to come soon, with five more "not scary King" books...

those hollywood nights, those big disney thrills

(As part of the #31DaysofWriting Challenge, we are challenged to write every single day.  Today, I'm going to cheat... well, sort of cheating... I took something that I wrote in 2011, and rewrote it, all about the trip that The Lovely Steph Leann & I took to Disneyland--not World, but Land.  I thought it was still good material, having been a draft post since June of 2011... so with the re-write, it totally counts for the daily challenge!) 

So back in May of 2011, The Lovely Steph Leann and I took a somewhat whirlwind trip (said me to her when we got back:  "that was a whirlwind trip... but then again, they all are, aren't they?") to Anaheim, California, to Disneyland--now, this is before Campbell Isaiah came along, though he was actually in The Lovely Steph Leann's tummy (or uterus, if we want to be exact).

We had a few free passes (thanks to our friends The Halperts & the Clarks) to work with, passes that would expire on May 28th of 2011 if they were not used.  We had a couple of Southwest flights to use, or they would expire, and we ended up using some Marriott points that The Lovely Steph Leann had accrued and saved over the years.  So, we flew for free, stayed for free and went for free, which makes for a nice weekend... I'd love to tell you we saved loads of money, but we just turned around and spent that money on important things like blankets, pins, a Boo plush and way too expensive corn dogs and lobster.  (but not together cause... well, eww).

We flew into LAX from Birmingham on a flight that left at 710 in the morning--Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless picked us up at 545 and took us to The Birmingham International Airport & Package Store, and we were boarding within an hour of arrival.  The flight landed in Phoenix, though we kept the same flight.  (text from Hurricane Rhett, after I left a FB status that said "We are in Phoenix":  "What, did you lose a bet"?) We did end up dashing off the plane, though, to grab some lunch at the Airport Wendys and then back on the plane were we discovered the joys of the two seats by the emergency exit.

If you are willing to take the burden of the lives of 200 people on your shoulders in the .04% that plane goes down, sit by the emergency exit.  On our flight there (and the place back as well), there were two seats with extra leg room, instead of the cramped three seat row the rest of the plane dealt with.  I understood the risk and the lives (or loss thereof) of the passengers on the plane was an acceptable risk for us to have a little breathing room.

We arrived at LAX around 1130 in the morning, but due to the time change in flying west, the whole trip took about five hours or so... we came off the plane and into the terminal, I looked around in wonder as I was now in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, LA, LaLaLand, Hollyweird... and it looked... it looked... well, like an airport terminal.  Not an especially impressive one, at that.

After getting our luggage, we headed outside to catch a cab, which was a predetermined decision.  We didn't really look at shuttles because we were told by numerous people that shuttles and cabs would be about the same price, and a shuttle would stop at several different locations while a cab would take us straight there--we were headed to the Marriott Towne Place Suites in Anaheim, about a half mile from the stadium were the Anaheim Angels play, and about two miles from Disneyland itself. 

In not researching effectively like we should, we learned quickly two things when it comes to traveling via cab... first, its better to fly into a closer airport.  LAX is about 35 miles from our hotel, while John Wayne Airport is only about 20 or so.  Second, a shuttle is better.  You pay one price, set, per person.   This lesson was grounded into our brains as we watched the little fare meter tick up 30 cents at a time, every 1/9th of a mile.  One-ninth of a mile.  Thats about 3 bucks per mile.  For 35 miles.

To make sure we weren't being hornswoggled, I pulled up the GPS on my iPhone and punched in the address and map from LAX to Towne Place... Valerty Kozhevnikov (I didn't make that name up, and had to look at it about nine times when I typed it into a comment on Facebook) followed pretty much the same route as listed on my GPS, and my man was flying through some of it.  But nonentheless, the bill at the end, plus tip, topped out around $115.  Valerty didn't smile one bit the entire ride, nor really even speak to us besides, "What izz you travel to?" at the beginning... until he was unloading our luggage.  "You vacation?"  Yes, going to Disneyland.  "Yes, good place.  You have much fun."  Thank you sir.  Here is your fare.  "Thank you so much."  Big smile, and he was gone.

It was kind of a neat ride though... not for the cab itself, but to pass by all these signs representing streets and neighborhoods I hear about in pop culture... Compton and Long Beach, together?  Man, you know you in trouble.

Anyway, we checked in, it was a nice little room with a small living space (that we never sat in), a small kitchen (that we only used to keep a half full bottle of stale Coke and a partly sipped-out-of bottle of water cold), a bathroom that was functional and a bedroom that had a bed that was decently comfy enough for sleeping after walking a theme park... have to understand something, though... if any of you were to call us from Disney World in Orlando, and say, "Hey, I'm standing facing Stitch's Great Escape, and I need to get to the Splash Mountain bathrooms... can you help me?" either me or The Lovely Steph Leann would quickly start in with, "Okay, so go left across the bridge and..."  But at Disneyland?  We have no clue.   At Disney World, we can easily navigate from pretty much any of the resorts, choosing to either drive (which we do to most parks except for Magic Kingdom) or take a boat (which we would if we were staying at Wilderness Lodge) or a bus (which we do sometimes if we are going to Magic Kingdom) or a monorail (perfect for getting to the Grand Flo, the Temp or the Poly)...

But Anaheim is a whole different animal.  Its a big ol' town nestled in a bigger ol' city, and unlike WDW, we were staying off-property, which means we were on our own when it came to getting around.  We discoverd the ART, the Anaheim Resort Transit system and for $16 bucks each, we bought five day passes that would allow us rides to the park at :20 after the hour and from the park at :40 after the hour.   Of course, this again is not what we are used to, because when we want to leave Hollywood Studios we... well, we leave.  We catch the boat to Epcot, or the bus to our resort, or we just hop in the car.  But suddenly we were on a time schedule to make sure we were in time to catch the bus to the park, or risk waiting another hour (or, heaven forbid, a cab ride), and we had to be back at the bus stop soon enough to catch the bus to the hotel, or risk being caught for another hour (or, heaven forbid, miss the last bus of the night and face a cab ride).

So, we get our luggage down, we get changed and take a little nap, and around 3pm (this is Pacific, ie, Cali time) we were up and getting ready for Disneyland.  We were at the bus stop at 320, and the bus pulled up about ten minutes later, which would prove to be a habit for these ART rides. 

Luckily, the bus stop is a mere three minute walk from the front gates of the park...

...but before I dive into our vacation, let me give you a little background on Disneyland, just so you'll know. 

I'm a nut for Disney history, and much of this info comes from Neal Gabler's excellent Walt Disney bio called simply, "Walt Disney", and some of it comes from just reading various blogs and listening to Disney podcasts and the like. (ps... this is before I became a Disney Travel Specialist... want me to plan your trip?  Gimme a call...)

Disneyland was a creation of Walt Disney, and legend has it that he was with his daughters one day in a park, and began to wonder why there wasn't a place for the whole family to go and have fun together.  Though passed off as fact, even in Wikipedia, this has never been substantiated, and Neal Gabler writes in the aforementioned bio that a number of his fellow animators and employees would say that Walt all told them his idea in a different way, and few of their re-tellings has Walt saying nothing about his family at the park.

What started out as a small idea for a "Mickey Mouse Park" soon evolved into a much larger plan for a "Walt Disney Land", soon shortened to "Disney Land" and then "Disneyland", and construction started in 1954.  The park opened for a "Press preview day" that invited the press and media, as well as celebrities from around the area and their families.  What was supposed to be a stellar day was a nightmare for Disney.  They were expecting around 10 to 12K people, but over 28,000 people showed up that day.  The asphalt was still so new that ladies high heels were sinking into the ground, the plumber's strike in the area barely got the restrooms working and left them without working water fountains.  The press saw this as a greedy attempt to sell more soda and reported it as such.

Since it was in July, it was hot, but the summer of 55 saw the temperature top 101 degrees, with vendors running out of food, attractions breaking down for part or all of the day, and even though only a certain number of tickets were given out, there were people with ladders propped up on the side of the wall offering anyone and everyone a chance to climb the ladder and get in for a few bucks.   The celebrities that were scheduled to show up actually had a schedule, where their arrival times were staggered all day... and yet, they showed up pretty much all at once.  July 17th, 1955 was called "Black Sunday" years later by Walt Disney and the company.

July 18th, however, could not have been smoother.  Things were working, the water was on, the food was there and over 50,000 people came in on the official "Opening Day".

Disneyland opened with five lands:  Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Main Street USA, then added three more lands in the coming years, that being New Orleans Square (1966),  Bear Country, which then became Critter Country (1972) and Mickey's Toontown (1993).  There was a "Holidayland" that opened in 1957, but it closed in 1961, and is considered the "lost land" in Disney lore.

Disneyland is tucked in the heart of Anaheim with a nearby park, California Adventure (and I do mean "nearby", as I counted 207 of my footsteps from one gate to the other), and when you pull up, you can see immediately some differences.  Mostly that there is non-Disney businesses--hotels, restaurants, banks, touristy shops--tightly surrounding the parks.   Walt would later lament the fact that he wasn't able to buy a lot of land in the area, which led to the flurry of places opening up and trying to capitalize on the Disneyland patrons.  He felt that, if you can be on Dumbo's Flying Circus and look out and see a hotel sign, the fantasy, the illusion of imagination was ruined. 

It was this thinking that led him to a Disneyland East, eventually called "The Florida Project"... buying enough land in Central Florida so once you entered the Walt Disney World, you could completely immerse yourself in the experience without outside distractions. 

In 1991, an idea was floated around concerning a second park in California, notably "WestCOT", a California version of Epcot, but by 1995, those plans were all but abandoned.  A new park was in the works, though, and in 1998, the parking lot for Disneyland was pulled up and turned into Disney's California Adventure, which opened in 2001.

DCA was one of Michael Eisner's last big accomplishments before his ouster in the early 2000s, though it had a rocky beginning.  For one thing, many people felt the attractions and rides weren't up to normal Disney standards in both entertainment value and quality, with some critics calling the park "mediocre".  Over time, however, Disney removed some failing attractions and added in new ones, like The Tower of Terror, and of course The World of Color, that has revived the park and peoples interest in it.  Though coming in last in all of Disney's theme parks in the world rankings in 2009, it still finished as the 11th most visited park in the world.

In 2007, Disney announced a billion dollar renovation of the park which will included a new gateway, a transformation of part of the park to the 1930s style Hollywood, instillation of vintage red trolley cars, retheming Paradise Pier into a Victorian style turn of the century boardwalk park, and of course, the addition of Cars Land, starring McQueen, Mater and the gang.

So, there is your update. 

(And this is where it ends, which is good, because I don't remember the day to day of the trip, just that we had a blast... thanks for reading)